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Celina Weatherwax and Fabian Martinez in the observation room of the live burn unit

The MAAC gave public safety officials what they wanted

Contributed By:The 411 News

A place where police, fire, and emergency medical services could train together

In 2016, Porter County fire chiefs welcomed the concept of a regional firefighter training facility proposed by the McMillan Family Foundation. Individual departmental budgets don't afford specialized training structures like flashover units and live burn buildings nor a dedicated staff to operate them.

But what they wanted most, said Celina Weatherwax, was a place to crosstrain and collaborate with neighboring public safety agencies. "Mutual aid agreements between public safety agencies often put them in situations where they work together," she said, "and they never train together."

By training together, fire chiefs expected better outcomes. They believed collaborations during training would bring about improved communications and relations when responding to actual emergencies.

Weatherwax is president of the Foundation that built the Multi Agency Academic Cooperative in Valparaiso, giving the fire chiefs what they wanted – a training facility for police, fire, and emergency medical services. It is Indiana's first and only collaborative project developed to serve public safety professionals.

Because police and fire personnel are first responders, and at times both are dispatched to the same emergency, the multi-agency training approach made sense. Collaboration is even more focused at the MAAC, headquarters for Indiana's District 1 Homeland Security.

A squad from the Gary/Chicago Airport's Aircraft Rescue Firefighting Unit spent 2 days at the MAAC last week. They trained on a 4-story structure and tower, vehicle extrication pad, fire extinguisher pad, forcible entry, and ventilation control. Commander David Denny said they'll soon leave for training at Bluegrass Airport in Lexington, KY to learn the Federal Aviation Authority side of responding to emergencies at airports.

Firefighting is a high-risk occupation where expert training is essential to keep firefighters safe. Trainers at the MAAC are among the most qualified and experienced of local fire and law enforcement agencies.

The unit from the airport went into the live burn building where floor level temperatures could reach 200 degrees and overhead, the ceiling temperatures could go as high as 800 degrees. Their protective clothing is designed to protect them up to 500 degrees. Fabian Martinez from the Hobart Fire Department was one of the trainers. He said the squad wouldn't face anywhere close to those extremes.

The 5-acre campus also includes a search and rescue tower, flashover units, a drafting pond, propane torching area, canine training park, indoor training space and classrooms. Law enforcement professionals have a virtual training theater. On their wish list are shooting and strategic driving ranges.

The MAAC is the site for the Fire & Rescue course offered by Porter County's Career & Technical Education Program. The one-year course is offered to high school juniors and seniors. Upon completion, students earn certification as level one firefighters, eligible to work for volunteer and some paid fire departments.

“The Multi-Agency Academic Cooperative provides a tremendous opportunity for Northwest Indiana residents looking to serve their communities as first-responders,” said Gary/Chicago International Airport Executive Director Duane Hayden. “We’re pleased that for the first time in its history, representatives of our airport’s brand new Aircraft Rescue Firefighting Unit were able to participate in this rigorous process at this state-of-the-art facility.”

The McMillan Family Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Task Force Tips, manufacturer of fire hose nozzles and other firefighting equipment. It is Valparaiso’s largest employer.

Aircraft Rescue Firefighting Unit do a safety check before entering the live burn unit

Classroom of high school students in the Fire & Rescue course

Story Posted:02/25/2020

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